Her Prince Charming: An Inspirational Romance (5 page)

BOOK: Her Prince Charming: An Inspirational Romance
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Chapter Ten
Sara

J
ames answered
the door to his cottage dressed in faded jeans and an unbuttoned white shirt, his feet bare on the polished wood floor and his dark hair tousled as if he hadn’t done more than run a hand through it since he woke up.

He had his phone to his ear, talking in a low voice as he absently took in the view through the window. Seeing me, he flashed a grin and waved me inside.

The night before we’d stayed on the porch to avoid causing any gossip, but this conversation had to happen in private. He said a quick goodbye and hung up as I walked in.

I looked around the room, avoiding James’s eyes, noticing that his cottage was decorated in a similar style of rustic elegance to my own, but had touches that gave it away as a permanent residence; a messy desk in the corner, a loaded dish rack in the small kitchenette.

“Do you want me to order breakfast in, or would you rather go out?” he asked, still holding the phone in his hand.

“I, uh, I can’t have breakfast. We have to talk. This isn’t going to work,” I stuttered out, backing away from his suddenly narrowed eyes.

“Why?” he asked, in a smooth, calm voice that didn’t match his eyes. “Did something happen?”

“I don’t…I just…have to go.”

I backed away as he came toward me. In my head I was berating him for making me a cheater, for betraying a woman who’d put her trust in him, for being just another jerk.

The angry words rattled in my brain, unable to reach my mouth. They felt too vulnerable, as if I’d let him hurt me when we didn’t have that kind of relationship.

I didn’t have to stay and be party to his cheating, but I wasn’t sure I had a right to my anger or my growing sense of hurt. That was for the girlfriend he’d betrayed. I didn’t want him to know he’d gotten to me. I might have unwisely developed some feelings for him, but I was going to keep them to myself.

“Tell me why you have to go, Sara,” he said, stalking closer.

“I…I can’t stay.” I took another few steps backwards, toward the door.

“Are you alright?” He’d reached me by then, taking my arms in his hands, halting my backward progress.

“I’m fine. I just changed my mind. I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“Why? And don’t tell me you’re fine. You look miserable. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I was looking for my clothes,” I said, yet again unable to refuse a direct order from this man.

“And?”

“And I found her things. Your girlfriend’s clothes.”

“I don’t think so,” he said, the side of his mouth curling up. The sight of his amusement was too much. I tore myself away, stepping back until my shoulders hit the door of the cottage.

“I did. I’m not a cheater. I’m not going to act like we’re together when there’s another woman out there thinking you’re hers. I can’t. The deal is off. Thank you for last night and everything, but I’m going.” On the tail of my little speech, I whirled to open the door.

“Just like that? What about your clothes?” Now he sounded like he was laughing at me. I fumed, frustration and disappointment welling in my chest until I felt my eyes fill.

“Where are my things?” I demanded. He reached for me, but I slapped his hand away. “Tell me where my things are so I can leave.”

“Are you going to give a chance to explain?” he asked, reaching for me again. I ducked away, retreating into the living room where I could get some space from him.

“No,” I said, humiliated by the tears coursing down my cheeks. Why wouldn’t he just give me my things and let me go? “Give me my things, James. Please,” I asked again, wishing I could have done this without crying. I wanted to be strong and fierce. Righteous. Not defeated.

“No,” James said. He was across the room before I could think up an escape route. I flinched back, the intense look in his green eyes making me nervous. “This isn’t over,” he said, bending his head until his lips were beside my ear. “Not over a foolish misunderstanding.”

“You can’t keep me here,” I said, hating the hitch in my voice. I’d never been an easy crier, but frustration always got me. The added hurt and disappointment of realizing James had lied didn’t help.

“I’m not,” he said. “We’re going back to your cottage.”

“James, just tell me the truth,” I whispered, trying to pull away as he took my arm and led me to the door.

“I did. There’s no one else, Sara. Give me a minute and I’ll prove it to you.”

Before I could think of what to say, he’d guided me out of his cottage, down the empty path and in through my own front door. When we reached the closet, he let go of my arm and turned me to face the row of hanging clothes. Standing behind me, his hands on my shoulders, he said,

“Look at them.”

“What do you mean?” I didn’t understand. I was looking at them. They were beautiful clothes, so who wouldn’t look? He let out a low growl of annoyance.

“Don’t move,” he said, and reached for a navy blue sundress splashed with brightly colored flowers. Pulling it off the hanger, he folded back the bodice and tore out the price tag before unzipping the dress and holding it out to me.

I couldn’t quite catch up. My eyes focused on a little black dress beside the empty hanger. I saw a flash of white and realized it, too, still had its tag. So did the jeans. I’d missed that before.

Embarrassment and hope tangled inside me as I let James lead me into the bathroom. He pushed the dress into my hands and stepped back, leaving me alone in the bathroom. Before the door shut behind him, I heard him say,

“Put the dress on, Sara.”

I did as he said, trying not to think about it. When it slipped over my head and fell into place I felt a surge of hope. I zipped the back of the sundress, drawing the fabric snug around my torso.

I never would have picked a dress like this for myself. I would have thought the straps too thin and the cut unflattering. I would have been wrong. The sundress highlighted my curves without overexposing them, the bodice and length completely modest while also managing to look feminine and pretty.

Confused, I left the bathroom and met James’s eyes, unable to think of a single thing to say. He didn’t wait for me to speak.

“Those are your clothes, Sara,” he said.

“What? Why? Where are my things?” When did he have time to buy me clothes?

“Your things are still packed in your suitcases,” he said, stroking my hair off my shoulders as we both took in the perfect fit of the dress is the mirror.

“Can I have them back?” I asked. I liked this dress better than anything I’d packed, but I still needed my things. My wardrobe wasn’t big enough that I could sacrifice a whole suitcase of it.

“Later,” James answered. “You don’t need it right now. Do you like the dress?”

“Of course I do,” I said, “It’s beautiful. But I don’t understand why you got it for me. When I saw it in the closet-”

“Why didn’t you just ask me?” He actually looked confused. For a man who seemed to have all the moves when it came to women, it was clear there were some things he really didn’t get.

I was starting to feel bad about my false accusation, but finding what I thought were another woman’s clothes in the closet had freaked me out. And when had he had time to go shopping for me?

I just shook my head in response. If he didn’t get why I’d been a little irrational, I wasn’t going to be able to explain it to him. Instead, I said, “I really don’t like cheating. The idea that you might have a girlfriend threw me.”

He wrapped his arms around me and squeezed. I kept thinking I wasn’t the right kind of woman for him, but the sight of us in the mirror, me cradled in his arms, his face pressed to the top of my head - we looked like we belonged. Placing a soft kiss to my hair, he said,

“I didn’t lie to you, Sara. I’m not a cheater. I wouldn’t do that. Not to another person and not to myself.”

“I’m sorry I got so upset, James. I just-”

“I’m not going to say that I understand,” he said, interrupting me. “I wish you’d asked me before you got angry. But there’s something you might want to think about in all this.”

“What?” I asked.

“I asked you to date me. Essentially to be my girlfriend. You thinking that I’d use you as a cover for another woman says more about what you think of yourself than how honest you think I am.”

“Maybe,” I said, knowing that ‘maybe’ was really ‘absolutely’. I was insecure about my female appeal. I was a twenty-five year old virgin who was suddenly dating a man who’d been linked to supermodels.

If there was ever a time I’d feel less than confident about my ability to hold a man’s attention, this was it. Apparently aware he hadn’t broken through, James took my chin in his hand and forced me to meet his eyes.

“Sara, you’re a beautiful, intelligent, kind woman. You shouldn’t doubt yourself. All right?”

I nodded in response, not sure what to say. He kept surprising me. Instead of continuing the discussion of my insecurities, I changed the subject and said,

“So when did you have time to get all of this?” I gestured to the clothes hanging in the closet.

“Pick a pair of shoes and let’s go out. I’ll tell you at breakfast.”

At the second mention of breakfast, I realized I was starving. I was also ready to ditch all these heavy emotions and go have some fun. After I put on some underwear. The top drawer beside the hanging clothes was filled with bras and undies.

All of it looked like high quality, but modest. If he’d bought me lingerie I would have objected, but this was okay. At least I hoped it was.

Now for some shoes. Beside the Louboutins, I spotted a pair of navy platform sandals with a flat bow at the toe and sexy ribbon straps around the ankle. They were sweet, sassy, and perfect for the dress. As I reached for them, I spotted the imprint inside the shoe.

Kate Spade. Not quite as unattainable as the Louboutins, but still way above my normal shoe budget, unless I decided not to eat for a month. I slipped them on, fastening the buckles hidden beneath the ribbons.

They were so cute. I was in love with these shoes. With the whole outfit, actually. I suspected I’d love the rest of what he’d bought me just as much. Resolving to push away my concerns and enjoy his company, I let James take my hand and lead me from the room.

Chapter Eleven
Sara

J
ames brought
me to Park 75 at the Four Seasons, where we ate at a secluded table for two. Once we were seated, he explained,

“We’ll have more privacy here than at the Drake Gardens.”

“I’ve always wanted to eat here,” I said, taking in the elegant surroundings, quiet on a Friday morning.

“Why haven’t you?”

“I keep meaning to, but I get busy with work and things that have to get done and I don’t end up getting out much.”

It was sadly true. I’d taken the job in Atlanta after college mostly because Franklin and Scott was a great company. Partly, too, because I’d thought being in a big city like Atlanta might give me an opportunity to have some fun. Instead, I ended up living the same life I’d always lived if you substituted going to work for studying and classes.

There was so much to explore in this city and I was an expert on my neighborhood yoga studio and grocery store. When this weekend was over, I wasn’t going to crawl back into my shell.

I was going to try to experience life a little more, even if it wasn’t on the same level as hanging out with a sexy billionaire.

Picking up the menu, I tried to figure out what to get. I wanted something decadent, but I thought I should order the fruit plate, or the Steel-Cut Oats. That felt like a waste in a place like this. James took over, asking, “Do you mind if I order for you? Is there anything you won’t eat?”

“No, you can order.” I put the menu down, relieved. James seemed to like me as I was, but I still felt weird about ordering a fattening breakfast in front of him. It was stupid. I knew that. I was an adult woman and I should be able to eat waffles or a Danish if I wanted one.

I’m not sure if the leftovers of childhood ever go away. Too many years of my sisters critiquing every bite I put in my mouth still left me weird about eating in public. I needed to get over it.

The waiter returned and my mouth watered as James ordered the Red Velvet pancakes for himself and the Brioche French toast for me. It was exactly what I would have ordered for myself if I’d had the courage.

When the waiter left, I picked up my coffee and said, “So, the clothes? Did you go shopping in the middle of the night? Or do you keep special fairies on staff who do your bidding at all hours?”

“The second, in a way. Not a fairy, my assistant, Melissa.”

“The one I met at your office last night? I thought her name was Cheryl.”

“It is. Cheryl handles my office. Melissa takes care of personal things.”

“Personal things? Like what? Does she pick your dates up for you?” I was half-kidding and half sure he was going to say ‘Yes’.

“Not usually. Though she has made an airport pick-up or two for me.”

“You fly your dates in? Like a lingerie model with a shoot in Bali coming to Atlanta just so you can take her out to dinner?”

This time I really was kidding. I swallowed my amusement when James took a slow sip of coffee, his eyes steady on my face, but said nothing. Of course he flew in models to date.

Women around the globe were probably begging for the chance to go out with him. Again, I wondered what he was doing with me. Finally, he said, “I don’t want to talk about any other women right now.”

“Fair enough,” I said. I didn’t want to talk about his other women either, especially after my embarrassing fit earlier. “So what else does Melissa do?”

“She coordinates my life. The past twenty-four hours aside, I spend most of my time working. I don’t have time to go shopping, make dentist appointments, or get my car serviced.I have to throw a number of parties and other social events that are mostly work and I don’t have the time, or the inclination, to handle those either. Melissa takes care of everything I can’t. Or don’t want to.”

“Okay, that actually makes sense. So when did she go buy all this? We only met last night. How did she know what to get?”

“I texted her to take a look at what you had, and if she thought I’d agree, she should go shopping and get you set up.”

“So she didn’t like my clothes?” I asked, not sure how to feel about a stranger going through my things and deciding they needed to be replaced. I wasn’t a fashionista, but I thought I did alright on my junior accountant’s salary. James shrugged.

“Maybe. But Melissa likes clothes. She may have thought yours were fine, but taken the excuse to buy you new things anyway.” That made me feel somewhat better. If I had the budget to buy clothes like this, I’d jump on it, even if they weren’t for me.

“So you made her work late? What if she had other plans?” I knew I was being nosy, but the whole concept of him having a person who would jump to do anything he asked was fascinating to me.

“I pay Melissa extremely well to never have other plans when I need her for something. She’s on call twenty-four-seven and she makes enough money that she doesn’t mind her hours. Plus, she likes me.” He gave me a satisfied grin, teasing me.

“Yeah, I bet she does,” I said, smiling back.

“She’s happily married to a lawyer who works long hours, no kids, which is part of why she doesn’t mind me calling her in at odd times. She’s one of those people who needs to be busy.”

“Hmm,” I said, unable to relate. I suspected James was like that, always on the go. Anyone who ran a business empire had to be. That was not me.

I worked hard at my job, and genuinely love volunteering at church and the shelter, but in my off time, I was more than happy to lie around, reading a book and snacking on chocolate. Probably part of the reason I still hadn’t seen that much of Atlanta.

The waiter returned with our plates, sliding in front of me a beautifully presented stack of the Brioche French toast stuffed with lemon curd and wild berry spoon jam. Heaven. The scents coming off my plate were so delicious I wanted to cry with joy.

Sweet, tart lemon, rich berries, and powdered sugar scented the air. If it tasted as good as it looked and smelled, I was going to be a very happy woman. James’s red velvet pancakes with pecan cinnamon butter and maple syrup looked equally tempting.

Reading my mind, and eyeing my French toast, he said, “I thought we could share.”

“Works for me.” I dipped my head over my plate and murmured the blessing, my heart warming when James took my hand and spoke along with me. When we were done, he cut a bite of pancake with his fork and brought it to my mouth.

The taste of cinnamon and maple burst across my tongue. Withdrawing the fork from between my lips, he scooped up a bite of my French toast for himself.

“This place is always excellent,” he said. We ate like that for the next few minutes. I fed him a bite, he did the same for me. The intimacy was new. It felt like we were in our own little island, just James and me, with nothing to worry about but enjoying our meal and each other.

Our plates were empty before I knew it. James sat back with his coffee, studying me. I tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear, self-conscious again. Picking up my own coffee, I said, “What?”

“Just glad you ate all your breakfast. You’re going to need your energy today.”

“Why? What are we doing?” I had no idea what I wanted to do, but as long as I was with James, I knew I’d have a good time.

“We’re going shopping,” he said, drinking half of his coffee before setting the cup back in its saucer. He checked his watch and gestured to the waiter. “The shops should be opening by the time we get there.”

“Why are we going shopping?” I asked. Hadn’t he already bought me clothes?

“Because I want to take you shopping,” he said, as if that was the end of the conversation.

Maybe to him, it was. I wasn’t exactly comfortable with the idea of James taking me shopping. We’d already talked about this, and I’d agreed not to give him a hard time about buying me things. Kind of.

I suddenly realized that definition of ‘things’ and James’s were probably very different. He was a billionaire. I was not. The clothes he’d already purchased were an expensive addition to my wardrobe. I didn’t need more.

What Melissa had bought wasn’t flashy, but I knew the designers well enough to know that there was at least several thousand dollars hanging in the closet upstairs, not to mention the dress and sandals I was wearing at the moment. Part of me was dying to see what his idea of going shopping was, but it was too much when we’d only just met.

“I don’t need anything else.” I said. “Really, I don’t.”

“I say you do. If you really don’t want the things for yourself, then accept them because, as my girlfriend, people will expect you to have them. And I want to buy them for you.”

“That’s a thin excuse,” I said, narrowing my eyes at him. “It’s not necessary.”

At that, he laughed. “Of course it’s not necessary. Does it have to be necessary? Or does it offend your accountant’s heart to spend money on something you don’t strictly need?” I looked away, too embarrassed to admit he’d figured me out. He laughed again. “Get over it. We’re going shopping. I’m just glad you aren’t in the wedding.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to buy you a new dress for the wedding. Something that will make your sisters faint from envy.”

“James,” I said. “I know they’re awful, but buying something just to make them jealous isn’t right.”

“No. But I’ve already figured out that you’re a better person than I am. So how about I buy you a dress that makes you feel like a princess and if it makes your sisters jealous, I’ll enjoy that all on my own.”

I was completely speechless. I wasn’t going to lie to myself and say the idea of showing up my sisters with a gorgeous dress and James on my arm wasn’t appealing. It was. It would be to anyone.

I tried not to give in to that side of myself. I wanted to be a kinder person than that. Though after scenes like dinner the night before, it was hard to hold onto my compassion.

James, in what I was learning was his typical style, ran right over my objections. He hooked his arm through mine and we walked through the hotel to valet parking, where his car was waiting.

A short drive later, we passed the car off to yet another valet attendant and entered the first floor of Nordstroms. I’d browsed here before, but I’d rarely shopped.

I tried to slow James’s pace so I could take in the displays, but he steered me straight to the escalators. Apparently, he knew where he was going.

BOOK: Her Prince Charming: An Inspirational Romance
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